by Rabbi Berel Wein
The awe and introspective contemplation of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur induce a state of spiritual awakening that allows one to truly enjoy and be happy on Sukkot, the festival called "zman simcha'sainu - the time of our joy." There is a great lesson in this progression of holidays which is applicable to every facet of our lives. We are accustomed to think that joy is a spontaneous emotion, requiring no previous training, planning, or accomplishment. The holiday of Sukkot - the time of joy - instructs us otherwise. For without Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there would not be Sukkot. Without serious preparation, sacrifices of time and wealth and effort (even deprivation and fasting), "joy" in Jewish terms is not lasting and ultimately not even meaningful.
[Without this preparation], joy becomes "a good time," "a night out," something which temporarily gives us distraction, but - like drinking seawater - never really satisfies us. So we must condition ourselves to the necessity of preparation and training if we want the experience of joy to influence us in an authentic way.
A second lesson of Sukkot is that joy is not a singular, unique emotion that is achieved in a vacuum. The holiday of Sukkot has many mitzvahs connected to it. There is the commandment regarding the sukkah (the booth constructed by Jews to eat and sleep in during the week of the holiday) itself, and there are the commandments that relate to the esrog, lulav, hadasim, and aravos (citron, palm branch, myrtle and willow which are used as part of the Sukkot ritual in the synagogue and home) - the four species of plants that are symbolic of G-d's bounty and blessing on this harvest festival. The synagogue service includes hakafos and hoshanos - the processions around the synagogue and the special poems composed for recitation during those processions.
The mitzvahs of Sukkot may be defined as joy-enhancers. They gladden and enlighten us, they make the holiday meaningful to our younger generation in a fashion that no other means of communication can approach. They provide the spiritual connection that allows our joy to be internalized and memorable, forever subject to recall and self-study.
Jewish tradition knows no other form of commemorating meaningful joy except for the connection of such potentially joyful times to Torah and the G-d of Israel. Sukkot and its wealth of mitzvahs make this point tellingly clear to us.
One of my lifetime dreams has been to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot in Jerusalem within the confines of my own sukkah. This Sukkot, my dream has been realized. On my beautiful balcony there stands a wonderful sukkah made of wood and canvas. And my sukkah is wonderfully furnished with a comfortable cot to sleep on, a spacious table for our family and guests, even a conversation nook to seat our drop-in guests and friends. But the finest accessory to my sukkah is Jerusalem itself. I have found that the realization of many of my dreams is somehow disappointing, because reality hardly ever lives up to fantasy.
But not so when the dream is of a sukkah in Jerusalem. When a human dream is tied to a spiritual cause, to Jerusalem, to Sukkot, its actual realization never disappoints. For the mitzvah always transcends human definitions and expectations. To do a holy act, a godly deed, automatically uplifts and ennobles the one who performs. In so doing, the person is saved from the disappointment which almost always accompanies purely physical accomplishments. This is also part of the message of Sukkot and helps us understand even more clearly the joy and happiness that are an integral part of this great holiday of Sukkot.
Reprinted with permission from InnerNet.org